There is simply nothing like the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a good novel; it’s a combination of nostalgia, satisfaction and maybe a little bit of smugness. The act of placing a finished book back in its spot on the bookshelf is often cathartic. However, can that same feeling exist when doing the modern equivalent: merely closing out of your Kindle app with a quick finger swipe and a wistful glance?
Some would say no, it can not; e-books have prompted many mixed reactions since Amazon’s reveal of the Kindle in 2007. Most readers fall into one of two camps: those who tout their tablet proudly, boasting about the wonders of modern technology, and the paper-purists, who insist that nothing can replace their favorite hardback.
While e-book sales may have declined, there is no denying that e-reading is a natural extension of the culture upon which the modern world thrives. Constant connectivity is a staple of this decade, and it seems almost silly to expect books to stay unplugged. E-readers have revolutionized the reading experience. From college students who no longer have to lug around what seems like the entire library, to readers in locations where a wide range of books wouldn’t normally be easily accessible, the convenience of digital literature is a rather persuasive argument.
The usefulness of the e-books is not restricted to the reading community either, as it’s easier than ever to become a published author. Whether this is detrimental or beneficial to the literary zeitgeist, only time will tell, but the ease of the e-books market can be taken advantage of by anyone. No longer are authors required to nervously ship off manuscripts to publishers and hope that luck will shine upon them, all they have to do now is simply convert their file to a PDF and press upload.
This has, as one would expect, resulted in an incredible influx of new culture into the literary sphere. Publishing is no longer reserved for the favored few. Instead, well-known authors now have to compete with the masses and price-gouging on novels.
Of course, there is no rose without a thorn, and there is no easily accessible publishing market without an obscene amount of terrible books. Yes, from yet another James Patterson novel to an e-book quite literally entitled “How to write the worst Kindle book in the world: UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2014: How to sell millions and zillions of e-books on Amazon,” the e-reading market is far from perfect. Even still, with all the benefits that come from e-books, it’s hard to give credence to those who discount this adaptation in literature based on its few flaws.
Yes, physical books are fantastic, but that does not make e-books a less valid choice. What matters is not how many people ooh and ahh when they see their neighbor’s clearly displayed cover of “Infinite Jest,” but rather that — even if it is hidden behind the screen of a tablet — someone is reading.
Literature is an art form that is so strong and ingrained in our culture it will never be truly lost. Sure, calling thousands of Twilight parodies published novels is not helping the integrity of that art form, but to state that the e-community’s connectivity is killing the novel is not only incorrect but also incredibly damaging.
The adaptation of a certain form of artistic expression does not mean the past methods are gone forever — just look at vinyl. If anything, the push towards e-books should cause the reading community to cherish physical books even more. That love, however, can not be allowed to become intertwined with spite towards the success of the e-book. Reading is not a competition; it’s as individualistic of an act as the consumption of other art forms, and warrants the same level of respect — no matter the method.
This article initially appeared online and in the April 7th print edition of Washington Square News.